Diane at the Mass blog ToughEnough isn’t. She’s taking John Kerry’s recent withdrawl from the 2008 campaign pretty hard. She says she’s “in mourning” and that it was “a painful day”. Coming from a hard-core Kerry partisan, such feelings are certainly understandable, but frankly, the rest of us are heaving long sighs of relief. Diane doesn’t get it.
The venom that’s poured out of the left and the right towards Kerry in the past few days have convinced me that he made the right decision. It’s been staggering, the amount of bile still held in reserve for him. Only imagine if he’d announced he was running. Someday I hope to nail down for myself the source of all the fury this one man evokes.
Maybe I can help clear up some of your confusion, Diane. I don’t suppose the hatred of Kerry by the Right is what’s bothering you – the answers to that are obvious enough – so I’ll concentrate on the left.
1. The 2004 Campaign
Kerry’s 2004 campaign was a bitter disappointment to a lot of us. Given the amount and the vitriolic nature of the opposition, he seemed to take forever to answer his critics, often not answering them at all. That may be “the High Road” but you don’t go into a war with a vicious attack dog like Karl Rove and then pretend to be above it all, not if your concern is the country rather than your own career.
Some of us knew what was at stake, knew Bush for the dangerous wingnut he is, knew that he was a stealth candidate, hiding his true nature under the veneer of Rove’s hand-tailored “compassionate conservative” illusion and the totally false personna of a down-home Texas cowboy, an ordinary guy. We could also see that an inattentive, soporific public, dozing through what looked like a snoozer of a presidential race, wasn’t paying much attention and still didn’t know those things because the MSM wasn’t doing its job.
Kerry needed, desperately, to show some backbone. He needed to out Junior for what he was:
- a chickenhawk who ran from the Viet Nam war, hiding in the Texas Air National Guard and then not even bothering to show up for duty. The Globe and Michael Moore had been bringing all that out during the primaries. All Kerry had to do was grab it and run with it. He refused.
- an almost unbelievably incompetent “businessman” who had run two different oil companies into the ground. Poppy had to save his butt both times by getting his Carlyle Group clients to bail the Shrub out. The whole sad story had been made public when W was still the Governor of Texas by columnist Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose of the Texas Observer. Again, all Kerry had to do was grab it and run with it. He didn’t.
- a hideous governor. Even granted that the Gov of Texas is powerless by statute, little more than a glorified ribbon-cutter at supermarket openings, Dubya wasn’t shy about making it clear where he actually stood. After all, Texas is a right-wing echo chamber and he had nothing like serious criticism to fear. It was an early version of the isolated “bubble” that’s become a cliche in recent years. He could say anything he wanted and safely ignore repercussions that would never come. And say it he did. As Ivins and Dubose documented in their book, Shrub, published almost a year before the 2000 election, Bush had some scary ideas (he was a virulent anti-environmentalist, a pro-business stooge, and an open admirer of Chile’s right-wing military dictator, Augusto Pinochet) and even scarier friends (Ralph Reed, head of the Christian Coalition; Jerry Falwell; Pat Robertson; the late Lt Gen Curtis “Nuke ‘Nam” Lemay; Rupert Murdoch; Joe Coors; John Malone; Richard Mellon Scaife; and many others of the same ilk). This was all vital information that gave the lie to the “compassionate conservative” and “MOR Methodist” image that Rove had been honing for five years. Kerry used none of it. NONE.
Again, given the high stakes, Kerry’s reluctance to engage Bush on ground favorable to him rather than to Bush baffled us. Why would he let a patent fraud like Junior get away with such blatant lying? Rove’s vile Swift Boat smear may have caught Kerry off-balance, but it was even more reason to strike back. Yet Kerry did NOTHING. Why? we asked ourselves. What in heaven’s name was he waiting for?
Maybe for the DLC to tell him it was OK.
2. The Democratic Leadership Council
The DLC has been running the Democratic Party since Clinton won in ’92. They were the ones who crafted Clinton’s moderate-Republican platform, they were the ones who convinced him to disembowel the welfare system and start removing the safety net, they were the ones who made pro-corporate policies front-and-center in the “new” Democratic Party, and thus they were the ones who taught Democrats to thumb their noses at their traditional base. Al From and Co are the architects of the Demo’s right turn after the Dukakis disaster, and they have only one major concern: developing policies that will attract corporate donations. They use their power – they hold most of the top positions in the party or heavily influence those who do – to make sure that Democratic candidates steer clear of taking stands on issues that might hurt the DLC’s ability to collect $$$.
They were the ones who destroyed Al Gore’s campaign in 2000 by insisting on “advisors” vetted by them. The campaign decisions of these DLC-approved “advisors” proved to be disastrous. Gore was ahead in the beginning and should have been way ahead by Sept. Instead, his numbers tanked due to the ineptitude of his DLC consultants, and it wasn’t until he dumped them that he began to make headway again. The election shouldn’t have been close enough for Jeb to steal in Florida. The only reason it was that close was that a whole summer’s worth of DLC-ordained campaigning had sent Gore’s approval rating into the toilet and he had to spend time and money climbing out of the hole they’d dug for him.
It was a hard lesson and Kerry should have learned it. He didn’t. He turned to many of the same people who had ruined Gore’s campaign to run his, and the results were predictable: timidity, confusion, garbled messaging. They never developed a coherent strategy against Bush, let alone Rove, and were on the defensive from Day One. The Swift Boat slime should have provided an opportunity to kick the Pubs in the nuts – most of the work to gather the information necessary was being done for the Kerry campaign by progressive bloggers (they were all over this at dKos in particular) and most powerfully, of course, by MoveOn(dot)org. All the campaign had to do – I’m getting as tired of writing this as you probably are of reading it, but it’s what happened – was pick up the info and run with it. They didn’t. They ignored the help that was coming from the left and continued to play “above the fray” – a sop to the corporate donors who were frightened of a right-wing backlash if Kerry attacked as he could have, and should have.
Kerry’s needed to be a no-holds-barred campaign, as Rove’s Swift Boat smear proved, but the DLC wasn’t having any and Kerry obeyed. Again, the 2004 election shouldn’t have been close enough to steal in Ohio, and the only reason it was that close was the inept handling of the campaign by the DLC. Bush, as we know now, was a lot weaker than his numbers looked. The war was already not going well, Iraq was devolving into confusion if not yet chaos, we knew that the whole Bush Gang had been lying for months to justify the invasion, and the nation’s approval of it was, if not yet waning, at a minimum on the fence. People were waiting for explanations, bold statements, clarity. They were waiting for those things, specifically, from Kerry. But Kerry had a problem. Which brings us to:
3. The Vote for the War
The core of the left’s dislike of Kerry can probably be found here. Many of us took that vote as a betrayal of both our work and our hope. There’s still a LOT of hard feeling about the Democrats who backed Bush’s war – Kerry’s not the only one. There are scads of us who may never forgive Hillary for her vote, either. But it was Kerry who was in the spotlight, and it was Kerry who couldn’t answer a simple, straightforward question until it was too late to do any good.
There’s no getting around it: he hemmed, he hawed, he tried to portray a non-position as “nuanced”, and he scuttled for cover like a beetle whenever the subject was raised, which it was. Again and again and again. For months this went on when all he had to say to defuse the slurs and turn them around was, “The Bush Administration gave us false information. They misled the Congress. They misled the people of the United States. They lied. I made the mistake of believing them. It’s not a mistake I will make again.” He did, finally, get around to saying about half of that but by the time he did, he had danced around so much that his statement had no force. The Right had successfully tagged him as a “flip-flopper” and was able to claim that this latest position was the mere poll-following of an ambitious politician who would say anything to get elected.
There are many of us who have a similar feeling for Kerry as the one we have for Ralph Nader: that he handed the election to Bush on a silver platter. We knew perfectly well that Bush was insane, that the people around him were reality-challenged fanatics, that the administration was corrupt to its core, and that the radical Republicans in the Congress were Bush sockpuppets. We knew that a Bush win meant more of the same only worse – a continued shredding of our rights, of the Constitution, of the social contract; the continuation of an illegal war with the frightening potential of destabilizing the entire region and bringing on WW III in the Middle East; a continuation of corporate control of the country; the continued selling-off of the govt to private interests; and on and on and on, one horrendous result after another. The stakes couldn’t have been higher, yet Kerry meekly allowed the DLC to destroy his campaign as they had destroyed Gore’s.
That’s why we can’t forgive him. He could have won. He should have won. The moves he should have made were obvious. The things he should have said were obvious. The country was waiting for him to do and say those very things.
But he didn’t. He didn’t do them, he didn’t say them, until it was too late. He gave the election, an election he should have won easily, to a monstrous joke of a candidate, a monstrous joke of a president. In doing that, he let us in for four more years of the chaos in Iraq, Republican corruption, and corporate theft of both the Treasury and our resources. Can you really not understand our anger?
I want to make it clear that I, personally, have no animosity whatever toward Kerry. I think he’s a terrific Senator and I’m glad to have him. I’ve voted for him in the past and will again. I watched the election and its mismanagement less in anger with him than sadness – my anger was then and is now directed primarily at the DLC and only secondarily at Kerry for listening to them.
So why have I just spent so much energy explaining what happened three years ago when Kerry isn’t even going to run this time?
The short answer is: the DLC. They’re still in charge. The two top-tier candidates are obedient children of the DLC. Hillary’s on the Board, for chrissake, and Obama is tied in, too – or wants to be. So is Edwards, although his ties are looser and he’s been known to break off on his own occasionally.
The point is that the Democrats seem to have learned absolutely NOTHING from the 2000 and 2004 election debacles. With the DLC remaining in command, what happened with Gore and Kerry could very well happen again. It is at their feet those defeats lie, and yet they’re still running the show. We could once again wind up sitting helplessly by in ’08, watching as a weak Republican candidate walks away with – or steals – a squeaker of an election the Democrats should have won by a landslide.
I don’t think the country would survive Sam Brownback.
Edited for the addition of two fresh links and a mention of MoveOn.org which I unaccountably left out of the original post. My profound apologies.